Placing children for adoption against the wishes of their parents is a draconian step, but it can still sometimes be preferable to long-term foster care. The Court of Appeal made that point in a case concerning three young sisters whose parents had failed to give them the attention, affection and warmth they needed.
The girls, aged four, three and 18 months, all suffered from learning disabilities and were particularly vulnerable. There was no dispute that their parents loved them and were capable of meeting their physical and material needs. However, social workers, who had long been involved with the family, took the view that the couple were not providing the children with adequate nurture or emotional support. The children were ultimately placed with a foster couple, with whom they were thriving and who had expressed a willingness to provide them with a long-term home.
After the local authority launched proceedings, a family judge made care orders in respect of the girls and ruled out the possibility of them returning to their parents’ care. He nevertheless rejected the council’s proposal to place them for adoption. He found that the girls would benefit from continued contact with their birth family and that adoption would be positively harmful. In particular, the judge cited the risk that the girls might be separated in different adoptive placements.
In upholding the council’s challenge to that ruling, the Court found that the judge had failed to give any weight to the obvious potential benefits of such young children being adopted, whether together or separately, in terms of commitment, security and permanence. The judge’s striking finding that adoption would be harmful was not supported by any sufficient reasoning. In the circumstances, the Court remitted the council’s application for urgent re-hearing by a different judge.